Treating the Root of the Problem with Chinese Herbs
It is a simple rule with Chinese Herbs to treat the root of the problem. This means that, as an acupuncturist and herbalist, I am looking to find the underlying cause of a condition. The function of Chinese herbs is to assist in correcting the imbalanced part of us, the underlying cause, which may be presenting with a certain symptom. This is different than a medicine solely being designed to take away a symptom. If the root of the problem is addressed, you’ll see that when the medicine managing your heartburn, for example, is removed the heartburn will no longer be there. With your doctor’s cooperation, it is not uncommon to replace your medication with a Chinese herbal formula and eventually not need the herbs. Heartburn is a good example of this, as I’ve seen people be able to no longer depend on their Prilosec.
Using the Whole Plant
Pharmaceuticals are often created from isolating an active ingredient in a plant and concentrating it to have a strong and quick acting effect on the body. A common example of this is willow bark, which has been used for thousands of years to reduce fever, pain and inflammation. We’ve more recently learned that the bark of white willow contains salicin. In the 1800s salicin was used to develop aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid. White willow typically brings pain relief more slowly than aspirin, though its effects may last longer. Rather than isolating, altering, and concentrating the active ingredient, herbs use it within its whole plant form. When taken in the form in which it grows naturally, that active ingredient has less potential for creating side effects.
Combining Herbs into Formulas
Often herbs in the West are taken by themselves to manage certain symptoms or illness, for example using echinacea for immune support. In Chinese Medicine, herbs are almost always used in formulas, combinations of up to twenty different herbs. Because these herbs have been used for thousands of years, it has been carefully observed how they affect the body when in combination. The risk of side effects of each herb is also reduced when combined with other specific herbs and the effectiveness is enhanced. There has been recent awareness of licorice root causing an increase in blood pressure, so your provider may warn you against taking it if you have hypertension. When this conclusion was made, this herb was studied by itself. In Chinese herbal medicine licorice root is always used combined with other herbs in a formula, which will not cause the blood pressure to rise.
A Couple Chinese Herbs You Should Know
Cinnamon– One commonly known and used Chinese herb is cinnamon. We think of it as a spice to flavor in baking, but it is mentioned as far back as 2700 B.C. in one of the earliest books about Chinese herbal medicine. Cinnamon, both the twig and bark, is one of the most important herbs to improve circulation. Hence it’s commonly used as a main herb in formulas treating menstrual disorders, masses, abdominal cramping, chest pain, and arthritis. Aside from invigorating blood, cinnamon is warming to the body and used to prevent and treat the common cold and upper respiratory congestion.
Corydalis– Another less known herb often used in Chinese Medicine is corydalis. This herb has been used as a chief herb in formulas for pain relief also since ancient times, including treating headaches, menstrual pain, and back pain. Aside from its known function of quickening blood circulation like cinnamon, we’ve recently learned that corydalis may have the similar mechanism as prescription pain medications of blocking pain signals in the brain. This herb can be used to treat chronic pain with less risk for addiction, a growing problem we are seeing here in Vermont. You can imagine the start of a Chinese herbal formula with cinnamon and corydalis used to manage pain by warming and invigorating blood circulation, and relieving inflammation.
Before opening up your spice cabinet or shopping for ingredients, please contact us at Integrative Acupuncture in Montpelier and Williston to learn more about how Chinese herbs and herbal medicine might help you. You may also consider classes that I’ll be offering to understand more about using this group of herbs safely for you or your loved ones. With more education, my hope is that our modern day culture begins to value the various options of medicine and work together to even more effectively treat our health concerns.